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Psalm 39[a]

For the music director, Jeduthun; a psalm of David.

39 I decided,[b] “I will watch what I say
and make sure I do not sin with my tongue.[c]
I will put a muzzle over my mouth
while in the presence of an evil person.”[d]
I was stone silent;[e]
I held back the urge to speak.[f]
My frustration grew;[g]
my anxiety intensified.[h]
As I thought about it, I became impatient.[i]
Finally I spoke these words:[j]
“O Lord, help me understand my mortality
and the brevity of life.[k]
Let me realize how quickly my life will pass.[l]
Look, you make my days short-lived,[m]
and my life span is nothing from your perspective.[n]
Surely all people, even those who seem secure, are nothing but vapor.[o] (Selah)
Surely people go through life as mere ghosts.[p]
Surely they accumulate worthless wealth
without knowing who will eventually haul it away.”[q]
But now, O Lord, upon what am I relying?
You are my only hope![r]
Deliver me from all my sins of rebellion.
Do not make me the object of fools’ insults.
I am silent and cannot open my mouth
because of what you have done.[s]
10 Please stop wounding me.[t]
You have almost beaten me to death.[u]
11 You severely discipline people for their sins;[v]
like a moth you slowly devour their strength.[w]
Surely all people are a mere vapor. (Selah)
12 Hear my prayer, O Lord.
Listen to my cry for help.
Do not ignore my sobbing.[x]
For I am a resident foreigner with you,
a temporary settler,[y] just as all my ancestors were.
13 Turn your angry gaze away from me, so I can be happy
before I pass away.[z]


  1. Psalm 39:1 sn Psalm 39. The psalmist laments his frailty and mortality as he begs the Lord to take pity on him and remove his disciplinary hand.
  2. Psalm 39:1 tn Heb “I said.”
  3. Psalm 39:1 tn Heb “I will watch my ways, from sinning with my tongue.”
  4. Psalm 39:1 sn The psalmist wanted to voice a lament to the Lord (see vv. 4-6), but he hesitated to do so in the presence of evil people, for such words might be sinful if they gave the wicked an occasion to insult God. See C. A. Briggs and E. G. Briggs, Psalms (ICC), 1:345.
  5. Psalm 39:2 tn Heb “I was mute [with] silence.”
  6. Psalm 39:2 tn Heb “I was quiet from good.” He kept quiet, resisting the urge to find emotional release and satisfaction by voicing his I held back the urge to speak. For a helpful discussion of the relationship (and tension) between silence and complaint in ancient Israelite lamentation, see E. S. Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I (FOTL), 166-67.
  7. Psalm 39:2 tn Heb “and my pain was stirred up.” Emotional pain is in view here.
  8. Psalm 39:3 tn Heb “my heart was hot within me.”
  9. Psalm 39:3 tn Heb “In my reflection fire burned.” The prefixed verbal form is either a preterite (past tense) or an imperfect being used in a past progressive or customary sense (“fire was burning”).
  10. Psalm 39:3 tn Heb “I spoke with my tongue.” The phrase “these words” is supplied in the translation for clarification and for stylistic reasons.
  11. Psalm 39:4 tn Heb “Cause me to know, O Lord, my end; and the measure of my days, what it is!”
  12. Psalm 39:4 tn Heb “Let me know how transient I am.”
  13. Psalm 39:5 tn Heb “Look, handbreadths you make my days.” The “handbreadth” (equivalent to the width of four fingers) was one of the smallest measures used by ancient Israelites. See P. C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50 (WBC), 309.
  14. Psalm 39:5 tn Heb “is like nothing before you.”
  15. Psalm 39:5 tn Heb “surely, all vapor [is] all mankind, standing firm.” Another option is to translate, “Surely, all mankind, though seemingly secure, is nothing but a vapor.”
  16. Psalm 39:6 tn Heb “surely, as an image man walks about.” The preposition prefixed to “image” indicates identity People go through life (Heb “man walks about”). “Walking” is here used as a metaphor for living. The point is that human beings are here today, gone tomorrow. They have no lasting substance and are comparable to mere images or ghosts.
  17. Psalm 39:6 tc Heb “Surely [in] vain they strive, he accumulates and does not know who gathers them.” The MT as it stands is syntactically awkward. The verb forms switch from singular (“walks about”) to plural (“they strive”) and then back to singular (“accumulates and does not know”), even though the subject (generic “man”) remains the same. Furthermore there is no object for the verb “accumulates” and no plural antecedent for the plural pronoun (“them”) attached to “gathers.” These problems can be removed if one emends the text from הֶבֶל יֶהֱמָיוּן (hevel yehemayun, “[in] vain they strive”) to הֶבְלֵי הָמוֹן (hevle hamon, “vain things of wealth”). The present translation follows this emendation.
  18. Psalm 39:7 tn Heb “my hope, for you it [is].”
  19. Psalm 39:9 tn Heb “because you acted.” The psalmist has in mind God’s disciplinary measures (see vv. 10-13).
  20. Psalm 39:10 tn Heb “remove from upon me your wound.”
  21. Psalm 39:10 tn Heb “from the hostility of your hand I have come to an end.”
  22. Psalm 39:11 tn “with punishments on account of sin you discipline a man.”
  23. Psalm 39:11 tc Heb “you cause to dissolve, like a moth, his desired [thing].” The translation assumes an emendation of חֲמוּדוֹ (khamudo, “his desirable [thing]”) to חֶמְדוֹ (khemdo, “his loveliness” [or “beauty”]), a reading that is supported by a few medieval Hebrew mss.
  24. Psalm 39:12 tn Heb “do not be deaf to my tears.”
  25. Psalm 39:12 tn The Hebrew terms גֵּר (ger, “resident foreigner”) and תּוֹשָׁב (toshav, “resident/dweller”) have similar meanings. They are not used here with the technical distinctions of most references in Mosaic Law. Ps 39:12 takes up this language from Lev 25:23 where the terms emphasize that Israel would be a guest on God’s land. They were attached to the Lord’s household; they did not own the land. The Psalmist identifies himself with this privileged yet dependent position. Abraham also refers to himself by these terms in Gen 23:4.
  26. Psalm 39:13 tn Heb “Gaze away from me and I will smile before I go and am not.” The precise identification of the initial verb form (הָשַׁע, hashaʿ) is uncertain. It could be from the root שָׁעָע (shaʿaʿ, “smear over”), but “your eyes” would be the expected object in this case (see Isa 6:10). The verb may be an otherwise unattested Hiphil form of שָׁעָה (shaʿah, “to gaze”) meaning “cause your gaze to be.” Some prefer to emend the form to the Qal שְׁעֵה (sheʿeh, “gaze”; see Job 14:6). If one does read a form of the verb “to gaze,” the angry divine “gaze” of discipline would seem to be in view (see vv. 10-11). For a similar expression of this sentiment see Job 10:20-21.